The term biomass heating refers to the combustion of plant based organic materials for the purpose of heating a volume of air. Biomass fuels fall into two main categories:
- Woody resources from sustainable sources such as fast growing trees or subsiduary waste products such as sawdust or recycled untreated pallets.
- Non-woody resources such as animal waste and the secondary organic output of activities such as oil seed rape and sugar cane processing.
These fuels are repositories for solar energy – energy from the sun is captured via the process of photosynthesis and stored by the plant, then released by combustion.
The important point to note is that fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas that have taken millions of years to form are excluded from the definition – a biomass fuel will be carbon neutral. The CO2 released when energy is generated from combustion of the biomass is balanced by the CO2 absorbed during the fuel’s production. In the case of fossil fuels, when burned they release carbon dioxide that was captured millions of years ago and as such only increase current total CO2 levels.
For space heating purposes, the biomass will be utilised either by the primary heating source in a room (for example, a wood burning stove) or the secondary heating source of the building (for example, a pellet fed boiler connected to the central heating and hot water systems).
Biomass systems are often bulky and so can require extensive storage space for both fuel and machinery. Unlike other sustainable heating solutions (such as heat pumps) the fuel will need to be sourced (often bought) and so fuel and transportation costs, as well the environmental impact of production and transportation will need to be taken into account.
With careful planning and appropriate sourcing of fuel, a biomass heating solution will have both environmental and economic advantages, providing a carbon neutral heating solution with lower running costs than traditional (gas, oil, coal) powered alternatives.